To Play Because It’s In You, To Play Because You Need To

Brian Case discusses the new FACS record with Munaf Rayani (Explosions in the Sky).

To mark the release of the second FACS album, Munaf Rayani — guitarist for epic instrumentalists Explosions in the Sky — agreed to jump on the phone with his old friend Brian Case, frontman of FACS (as well as the on-hiatus Disappears). FACS’ new Lifelike is a dark, post-punk indebted set that should appeal to fans of This Heat and The Cure.
— Josh Modell, Executive Editor, Talkhouse

Munaf Rayani: Hello Brian Case, we are now officially recording.

Brian Case: Are we official?

Munaf: We’re something. I don’t know if we’re official, but this’ll work for now.

Brian: How are you, what’s up? How was your week?

Munaf: Doing week things like things you do in a week. Life things, musical things, family things. How about you?

Brian: Same. I work, I work on some music. Noah and I have been practicing by ourselves which is interesting.

Munaf: Do you run a bass line, or you just hear it in your heads?

Brian: We’re just recording guitar and drums stuff, just trying to get ideas together. So it’s fun. It’s much shorter than we would normally practice. I kind of show him some stuff that I have in my head and play some drums to it. And then we both record it on our phones and we just send it to each other and listen and we’ll get together tomorrow and do the same thing. And just talk about what we did. Just to keep productive while Alianna’s busy doing stuff.

Munaf: How phenomenal that we’ve now arrived at a place in time in which you can just record stuff on your phone and then pass it around. Now that the fellows and I are just a little bit spread out, we can do similar things. More than just record them on the phone, we’ll record them on the computer and send them around and then go to practice.

Brian: When you first started playing music you would do anything to record. Just hear it. That was such an accomplishment, you know what I mean? And now it’s almost disposable. Because it’s in your pocket.

Munaf: Exactly. We had a Marantz recorder — well, Mike had a Marantz recorder. And so that’s just like a high-quality recording device with a mic.

Brian: Basically a field recorder.

Munaf: Exactly. And so we would play together out loud in a room and then record that. And then we would make three tapes and walk around with that. So that took care of us being able to hear things. But then when you leveled up, it was a four-track recorder. And think about how many times you had to bounce four tracks to get to, I don’t know, like 12 tracks or 16 before it started to deteriorate. That’s too many tracks to put anything on.

Brian: You don’t want a 24 track recording —

Munaf: On a Maxwell 90 minute tape!

Brian: My band in high school we never even bought a four-track. We just rented from the guitar shop for the weekend.

Munaf: Luckily Michael was already ahead of it. He was kind of like the first of us and the most of us to be getting gear early. He had the four track and we all just put it to use and we demoed a lot on it early on but we also just had fun recording whatever. Not even necessarily Explosions stuff, just musical stuff. You would just practice melodies over and over and over and over again for them to be stuck in the musical brain. And now when I come up with a melody I immediately hum it out or immediately record it. It just kind of switches up the process a little bit or tangles the process.

Brian: It sort of kills the spontaneity of my creation at the moment. But it also captures the necessary information that can allow you to move forward. So it’s a kind of double-edged sword.

Munaf: Absolutely. You know the old adage: The phone is only as smart as the user. I think that applies to a lot of technology, but the idea of music and practice and melody… it becomes a thing of just a surplus of content. If you wrote ten melodies back then, you’d be like, “OK. Three of these are really good. I’m going to focus in on three of these melodies.” Now you can write 30 melodies and be like, “I’ll just keep all 30.” And that’s when I think things start to kind of dilute and potency is affected and then there’s just so much happening that one thing gets lost in another and the conveyor belt keeps moving forward.

Brian: Yeah, but it’s good for a lot of things.

Munaf: So what’s coming up soon? The FACS record is done?

Brian: It comes out March 29.

Munaf: It has a street date or does it just have a digital date.

Brian: The street team established the street date.

Munaf: Is that a term that’s still used, “the street team”?

Brian: No. Street team was pre-internet.

Munaf: Boy, we are really aging ourselves which I enjoy. I don’t mind being older. I’ll talk about this all day.

Brian: I’m a much more stable, happy person now that I’m older.

Munaf: But you’re still as committed. That’s something I really admire about your work and rock & roll ethic, man, is that you are always on the move. You are constantly playing music for as long as I’ve known you and known of you. That’s a very great quality to carry.

Brian: Thank you. It’s fear based — like if you stop, it’ll just end, you know what I mean? Like if you don’t keep busy or keep people around you motivated or present opportunities that that they might be into then it just goes away. We’re all at an age now where it’s much easier to settle into a home life. I like those responsibilities and I feel like if we’re not practicing every week or recording or like set something ahead a few months to look forward to it, it’s too easy to just slip into not focusing on it.

Munaf: And that’s good to carry that panic… Well, “panic” is a little bit too severe of a word. But “hunger” is a little bit too silly of a word. You know what I mean. You know, that thing to kind of make sure that the flickering flame stays lit is a very important thing in anything that one loves to do.

Brian: Yes. I’m more motivated by what I think is coming than what I know has happened.

I like working toward something because I think something else is happening or coming as opposed to being like, “I want to play the song every night.” You know what I mean? I’m always sort of trying to look for what’s next. And that’s why I think I keep pushing hard to get there. Because I always think there is something around the corner that is maybe more interesting than what just happened.

Munaf: Sometimes the guys and I get in this conversation, but I can also be content in what we have done or what it is we do. Of course I don’t want us to play the same thing over and over again. But when I think about the music that I love from something that came out a year ago to something that came out a hundred years ago and I think about what those musicians or those musical bodies have in common with themselves and it is their voice, their tone. So to carry the idea of like, “Man, what is next?” What is next is just how the words are going to come along, how the melodies will find themselves.

Brian: My favorite musical process is the practice space. When you play the song for the first time, when it finally makes sense and you’ve gone through multiple versions and then you get to the point where everyone is like, “That’s so great. I like this.” That’s my favorite part. So I’m always looking for that, you know? I’m always trying to find that part. I can’t wait to hear what happens next.

Munaf: When it all clicks, when you come up with something at its base and it piques your interest and then you bring it to people that you admire and enjoy being around and play music with and they spark an interest and then it all starts to kind of coalesce and form into this thing. And yes, whenever we played through a song for the first time and the song hits, that last note hits, we kind of look up at each other. And that is the marker of like “OK man, we are still alive.” We have ideas starting to cook, conversations starting to take place. This is an anniversary year for us, so we’re going to try to do a handful of things along the way. You never know what tomorrow looks like, but man I am eager and excited to have some new sounds to go show and play. So what happens next for you? The record comes and then you go see the world you go do the shows?

Brian: Yeah. We have the tour set up and I mean we actually are all here in Chicago in August, so our idea is to track a record in August again.

Munaf: So does that mean you have [producer John Congleton], or does that just mean you guys in Chicago?

Brian: At this point we don’t know. It’s easy for us to just track it here and send it to John. But we obviously like spending time with him, so we’ll have to see what makes sense.

Munaf: How lucky for us to share John Congleton.

Brian: I met John in such a special way, and he’s been a constant in my life for so long that it’s like when we talk, he’s still the person who I don’t live in the same town with, that I talk to probably most regularly. We always have a conversation. I mean you know. You’ve made as many records with him as I have. He’s number one.

Munaf: Yeah. I’ve been sorting through so many photos lately and I’ve come across so many old pictures of all of us and I send them to John and he’ll just flip out and write me funny messages. Just looking back at how long we’ve all been playing music and how long we’ve all known each other, it’s a really special thing to be a part of. You know when you kind of look around and your musical peers are a lot of the same people that were around when we all just started playing music. That’s another reason I enjoy getting older because I’m getting older with all of my friends, you know?

Brian: It’s certainly comforting to hear so many people have continued on the same trajectory It’s cool to see that it’s still so important to people.

Munaf: The music is a constant in all of our lives.

Brian: It’s like a heartbeat for so many people, and it’s cool that it’s crossed over in so many ways. Can you imagine? I never thought I would ever say I’ve known someone for 20 years. You know? It’s not even like a thought that goes in your head until one day you realize that it’s happening. That’s insane.

Munaf: I’ve known the guys [in EITS] now more of my life than I have not known them. It was just childhood and then all of a sudden we were playing music and traveling the world. And now here we are carrying on. I love talking to friends and catching a flight down memory lane you know. OK, so you’re starting stateside and then to Europe? Have you been to faraway places?

Brian: We’ve been to Europe once. We’ll go back in the fall. The US stuff is in the beginning of and end of summer, and then, like I said, hopefully we’ll get some stuff recorded in the middle of that. I think we’re all a little bit more into making music than promoting it. And you know until things kind of turn up a little bit tour-wise, we’re just going to try to keep putting records out and working with people that we love. We just try to be active and present and that’s either through doing tours, playing shows, or just recording and trying to be on top of that. There’s no shortage of material or ideas.

You know when you look back at your favorite band: Do you remember every time you saw them? For me it’s more about I would love to hear how they change and move through the years. Like when you think of the Smiths, they were around for five years and they put out four records, a million singles, they toured all the time. That was just their life for five years. And that was an intense drop of beautiful music. I love that. I just want to constantly be putting music out and play some shows put some more music out, more shows. We’re all trying to just be realistic about our lives and our age and our opportunity and take every chance we get, but also just try to do this the way we want to.

Munaf: That is a great luxury. Of course we want music to reach as many people as it can reach, but we also want to just play as you described. To play because it’s in you, to play because you need to, to play because you want to just continue to propel this forward. But that doesn’t have to mean chasing spins or whatever people chase now. You know I feel like we’re very, very lucky in the sense that we’ve been doing this for so long and it’s been us really standing in the right place at the right time a lot of times. And so we’ve been lucky enough to kind of just carry this momentum even though we’re not terribly quick with the things that we make or release.

Brian: You definitely know what you’re doing.

Munaf: That’s the illusion, Brian. But does anybody know what they’re doing? I mean I guess some people have it really calculated and are playing it out, but to be honest we’re really stumbling through this, to this day. Twenty years in we’re just like, “OK. I guess this is what we’re doing now and well maybe we should go do that.” And we also understand how lucky that is.

Brian: I think that’s what you want, you want to like stumble through things with your friends and through life. That’s the beautiful thing about being connected to people that you actually care about and actually being able to do something like this with people. I feel like so many bands are just circumstance. You like the same music as me, so we have to play in a band together. When you’re actually playing with people that mean something to you, that’s why a band sticks around for 20 years. That’s why the music you make people connect to, because they connect to this feeling that you’re actually doing something and it means something.

Munaf: You know what, I was just thinking as we’re talking, again talking about our age, is how young people or young musicians are still kind of forming bands in the way of maybe being at the same shows and/or running in similar circles. That has to still exist. But I also think a lot happens through the internet. I think people talk to each other through the internet so much that you don’t even have to see somebody before you decide you’re going to do something with them. And I was thinking back on how we all formed a band. Mark, Mike, and I all came from the same West Texas town, but Chris put up a flyer. That’s how we met Chris and I guess now that would be a posting.

Brian: But that’s also kind of weird because when you post something, you post it to the people who already know you. And when you put up a flyer, that’s completely out there and different. That’s strangers.

Munaf: And every type of person, not just your type of person is gonna see that thing.

Brian: I think about this constantly. Part of it is because I’m constantly revisiting all these things, but also I think about it because Asher is 13 and I’m wondering how he’s going to start experiencing the world. He’s doing music and we talk about how he gets music, how he hears new things. I have this gigantic record collection that he’s picking through all the time. He has no social media but he’s following friends on Spotify and hearing all this music. The other day I was sitting on the couch and I heard Björk playing and I was like, “Who put this on?” And I walk into Asher’s room, he’s listening to Björk. He picked up his phone, he looked at it, he’s like “Beejooork?” And I was like, “How did you hear this?” His friend’s playlist. It’s just like a mixtape, like you make mixtapes for your friends and people pass them down to you.

Munaf: To have the reach to go get it as easily as you can now I think is pretty remarkable. They’re passing around whatever playlist, which was our mixtape, which was somebody else’s mix CD. That’s fun to think about Asher getting these playlist amongst his friends and then sharing things. Even though I made a lot of mixtapes or CDs growing up I bet it pales in comparison to the amount of music that is passed around.

Brian: You didn’t have access to every single record ever recorded.

Munaf: Speaking of mixtapes, I was just remembering… Mark had gone off to college and he was sending me mixtapes that I was still listening to on my way to high school. Like Smog was on it. Blonde Redhead. Sonic Youth. Beatles tracks. D.C. Berman, Silver Jews, stuff like that was a kind of stuff he was into and so and then that’s the stuff I started to get into. Polvo. I’m getting to listen to that didn’t exist in our little town. So you know here comes a tape from the big city Albuquerque or Austin or wherever he was.

Brian: I always tell Asher the only thing I can give you is this record collection and this advice…

Munaf: Boy, that is priceless. Those two things give Asher such a leg up. The record collection and just the world of music through your eyes or processed through your experience. He’s already starting to see life in ways that you can’t even touch on you know. You’ve made a good being and you’re presenting him ideas. The foundation that he has is gonna be a fun thing to watch bloom. He’s already experiencing life in ways that we could have only dreamed of at the time.

(Photo Credit: left, Olly Curtis)

Brian Case is an artist and musician born in St. Louis, Missouri. He has been living and working in Chicago, Illinois, since 1995 and has been involved with groups as diverse as 90 Day Men, The Ponys and Acteurs. Most of these bands could be accurately described as footnotes, although The Ponys did quite well for a while there. His most recent band, Disappears, focuses on minimalism and repetition, creating experimental and open music that sits in the negative space where art rock and post punk collapse onto each other. You can follow them on Twitter here.

(photo credit: Zoran Orlic)